Left leaders feel government misleading them over n-deal

May 20th, 2008 - 4:21 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Liz Mathew
New Delhi, May 20 (IANS) Some leaders of leftist parties are beginning to wonder if the government is misleading them over the state of the almost-halted India-US nuclear deal in a desperate bid to push it through in the next few months. None of the leaders of the four leftist parties backing the government want to go on record, but they say that statements made by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee are causing them concern.

In his many meetings with the Left leaders, Mukherjee is believed to have said that the 123 Agreement governing the nuclear deal is more or less dead but New Delhi is still trying to get the processes done with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in order to come out of the nuclear isolation that India has been subjected to since its first Pokharan test in 1974.

Left sources say at the same time Mukherjee has been saying different things to different people, giving grounds for suspicion that the Congress-led government might suddenly push through the nuclear deal before the Bush administration leaves office.

In the last United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-Left nuclear committee meeting on May 6, Mukherjee explained to the Left leaders that New Delhi could do nuclear business with France and Russia if the processes were cleared at the IAEA and the NSG.

However, David Mulford, the US ambassador to India, has clarified that India would not be able to purchase uranium from France or Russia without getting the 123 agreement with Washington cleared.

“The NSG countries will not cooperate with that and nor will the major countries such as France and Russia who have reached understandings about cooperating with India, but whose conditions for activating those understandings is that the current deal has to go through the IAEA, the NSG process, and be ratified by the full international community of civilian nuclear countries,” Mulford was quoted as saying in The Hindu newspaper.

Mukherjee has apparently been trying to convince the Left leaders, who vehemently oppose a nuclear agreement with Washington, that the 123 agreement was unlikely to be formalised as the US Congress, where the 123 package has to come back for approval, would not be able to meet within the timetable it has set for it.

However, Mulford indicated that “US Congress is an institution which has a small core of leaders who can decide to approach something differently”. He added that the Congress could make a determination on a “short notice” though there was “only a very narrow window to complete the process”.

Although there were indications that the Left, who argued that the nuclear agreement would damage India’s indigenous nuclear programmes and independent foreign policy, may allow the government to go ahead with the India-specific safeguards agreement with the IAEA, some of them are worried.

“The government’s stance (which is expressed by Mukherjee, who heads the 15-member nuclear committee) is becoming ambiguous. We fear that they would push through the deal,” said a Left leader, who did not want to be identified.

They were also confused over Mukherjee’s stance over the deal. When the committee was formed, there had been rumours that the foreign minister was trying to scuttle the deal as he felt overshadowed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who took the initiative for the nuclear agreement with Washington. At the same time publicly Mukherjee was playing as a bridge between the government and the Communists to reach a consensus over the deal.

Mukherjee was known for his proximity with the Communists and was privately accused by some Congress leaders of towing the Left line on the deal.

But the foreign minister’s new moves have left the Left leaders puzzled. The Left leaders are meeting Friday to take a decision on their stance in the May 28 meeting of the UPA-Left on the issue.

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